Respecting our Elders: a Unified Front on Climate Change

I had an interesting conversation with my boss the other day. We were driving back from an SBC presentation in Sutter Creek, one of the jurisdictions we are trying to recruit for an energy action plan, and were in the midst of one of those conversations that can only be had on a two-plus hour ride with a trusted friend or coworker. This is probably the seventh (or was it the eighth?) time we’d made the weeknight trek to and from Amador County, which, although was a relatively long haul, was made more worthwhile due to our high batting average with getting plans approved. Conversation topics would range from skiing, to girlfriends, back to skiing, and almost always inevitably to the scope of our environmental work.

Sunrise/sunset on Donner LakeThis time, the subject had drifted from our work to relevant nature of the politics, specifically who we decide to put in office. We spend a fair chunk of time talking to small-town elected officials, and thus far we have run the gamut from congenially receptive and well-educated politicians, to outright aggressive climate deniers, to intrigued slash skeptical slash hesitant to change officials. Basically, we often don’t know what we’re going to encounter until we’re standing right in front of them.

I made a comment about how refreshing it was to see a young chairman on one of the town councils recently (which have a tendency to be skewed to the “golden” years), and my boss, always playing the devil’s advocate, immediately countered that that was not always a good thing. Youthfulness is great, he noted, with all of its fresh ideas and ambitions, but we must not forget the invaluable years of experience that older generations have to draw on. He went on to note that in such a youth-obsessed culture, we often forget that we once looked to our elders for wisdom and advice. I think many of us (i.e. myself) have become so frustrated with an old and stubborn leadership at the highest levels of our government (hint: it starts with a “C” and kind of rhymes with “Wrong-ness”) that we are quick to assume that younger is better.

I realized that I had fallen into the trap of assuming the younger generation should just take over, when really we should be looking to the wisdom and years of experience granted by our elders. We are so caught up in seeing our idols; the activists, actors, athletes, artists, as young and refreshing and making big waves, that we sometimes fail to recognize that these people have stood on the shoulders of giants to get where they are. In an era where you can feel behind because you haven’t dropped out of college and started your own million-dollar app/startup by the ripe old age of 23, sometimes its good to slow down and look back at what accomplishments people have made over a steady lifetime of progress.

Even worse than idolizing youth, so many have taken to dismissing our elders to retirement homes and golf courses once they hit the age of 65. Such dismissiveness refutes the incredible value of their years of wisdom, wisdom that can be passed down by way of mentoring relationships. A fellow acquaintance from our Toastmaster’s group here in Truckee has spoken about this at length, and is a proponent of the Conscious Elders Network, an organization dedicated to making use of the untapped potential of the collective wisdom and experience of our nation’s elders. These are people who are very motivated, very intelligent, and capable of dedicating time to issues facing our nation, one of which, unsurprisingly, is climate change.

To wrap up before this pseudo-rant gets too off topic, it should be emphasized that climate change is an inter-generational (and beyond) issue and should be treated as such. Many older generations are incredibly concerned about the legacy they leave, as well as preserving the planet for their children and grandchildren. So before we start marching on Capitol Hill with pitchforks and chants of “out with the old, in with the new,” we should take the time to sit down and lend an ear to those who have been on this planet for a few more years than us and develop a dialogue about how we can unite the unbridled ambition of the youth and the wisdom of the advanced into a unified vision of environmental stewardship. And if you still need convincing that the old fogeys in DC aren’t doing much to push this dialogue, I would argue that there are one or two who are looking to make a change.